Review Summary: hate-fucking the 80s
The Curls are a weird band. Debuting on the main stage at last year’s Pitchfork Fest in Chicago, they displayed a vibrant disdain for genre conformity, playing with several horns, a couple synthesizers, and at least three vocalists. Their past work has bounced from folk to psych to rock to pop to electronic, all while being so doggedly twee that any hope for commercial success is all but naught. However Bounce House
, their latest release, is a different beast altogether. Pushing into their synthy leanings, the album takes a stab at fame by taking a head-dive into what I consider the two greatest sins of modern indie music—nostalgia and irony.
While I believe it to be lazy to rely too much on “80s worship,” this album does so brashly and openly, though it does so with far more intention than most memory-preying cash-grabs. Here, The Curls sound like a band angrily coming to terms with the fact that they must conform in order to stand out, taking the tried-and-true nostalgic route as their way into the mainstream, albeit with far more self-awareness than their contemporaries. Through all the synths and cheese, sharp irony takes form in their lyrics and the sharp outbursts of violence. For example, the opener (aptly titled “Welcome 2 the Bounce House”), finds itself ricocheting between smarmy new-wave riffs and discordant, violent outbursts of heavy distortion and laughter, mocking itself with an elbow nudge, just to let you know that they’re in on the joke. They’re acutely aware of what they’re doing: mining the 80s sound for everything it’s got and doing their damnedest not to lose themselves by doing so.
It’s all exhilarating. It’s rare to find an album so willing to sacrifice itself for commercial viability, and yet so disappointed with itself for doing so. And that’s not to say that anything here is half-hearted; if anything, every aspect of it is turned up to 11, from the aggressively melodic, menacingly nostalgic synth loops of “Like a Fool,” to the claustrophobic final swirl of closer “Picture F(r)ame.” The lyrics here are just as conflicted, often lamenting just exactly what the fame they’re aiming for would do to the band. Wrap up this constant duality in some catchy tunes, gorgeous interludes, and vibrant instrumentation, and you’ve got something that sounds like M83’s Junk
on PCP, yet far more self-aware. And while the twee vocals continue to do their chances at fame no favors, both the male and especially the female vocalists (“Hit Em Where it Hurts” draws some glorious early Blondie vibes) exhibit some serious skill all while helping the band grasp on to their own personal sound despite all the "selling out" that's going down here.
Ultimately, what The Curls have managed to do here is to grind all the mindless, excessive 80s-worship of the past decade into a fine paste, distilling it through excessive irony and self-awareness to create something that manages to mock its own selfish reasons for existence while remaining fun and pointing toward a bright future for the band.